How Do I Forgive My Partner?

Written by on March 20, 2009 in Brain Science of Addiction, Rebuilding Relationships - 13 Comments

In my work as a marriage and family therapist, I often interact with spouses who are having a very difficult time forgiving their partner for the years of pornography use and other sexual addiction behaviors. A spouse legitimately feels anger, betrayal, confusion, inadequacy and self-doubt, and many other powerful emotions. If not handled in a healthy and productive way, these emotions can become toxic, damaging the health and well-being of the spouse who harbors them, and driving a wedge into the relationship.

In my more than 30 years of counseling, the most effective healing agent for this situation is forgiveness. However, I find that many people don’t understand what forgiveness means or exactly how to go through the process. Here are some helpful guidelines based on success with thousands of couples.

What Forgiveness Is and Is Not

Let’s assume you are the wife of a pornography addict. First of all, there are some things that forgiveness is NOT:

It’s OK, I forgive you, now let’s forget it.

He is getting away with it

He can do it again

He is sorry or repentant

Forgiveness is about freeing yourself of the burden of negative emotions and energy. It is about letting go of the bitterness, anger and frustration, and replacing these with gratitude for your own gifts, talents and blessings; your own innate worth. Also, gratitude for the good and positive things about your spouse that are not related to his addiction. Forgiveness is about proactively moving forward as apposed to being stuck in the past and rehashing old negative emotions over and over again. You forgive him for what he has done to you. Dealing with his addiction, his poor choices and reconciling all of this with God or the universe is his task, not yours. His addition is NOT your fault or your responsibility to resolve. Forgiving him is about your peace of mind and lifting a burden from your shoulders. Forgiveness also opens the way for you to be a healthy support and partner in his recovery, if that is the path he wants to take.

How to Forgive>

Be Sincere and forgive ALOUD. To be more effective you need to hear yourself say the words.

Be Specific as to who you are forgiving and why.

Present Tense put your forgiveness statement in the present tense. “I FORGIVE” rather than, “I can forgive, I will forgive, I’d like to forgive, I should forgive or I need to forgive.”

Three Parts of Forgiving

1. Forgive them for what they did to you “I forgive you for lying to me.”

2. Replace with gratitude “I am thankful for your honesty with me now.”

3. Do something about it!

a. “Let’s talk about your being honest with me. I want to trust you, but you have to be open with me. How can we work on that?”

b. “If you continue to lie, I can’t trust you. We can build trust as you tell me the truth.”

c. “That’s enough; obviously you don’t want this relationship to work.”

Forgiveness is a powerful force for good! When done properly, it brings remarkable peace of mind and freedom. Implement it in your life and the results will astound you!

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13 Replies to How Do I Forgive My Partner?

  • "Sandy"

    March 22, 2009 • 9:49 pm

    I have fallen into this abyss and unfortuantely have messed up my marriage by it. I was doing this secretatively and somehow enjoyed the “rush” of getting away with it. Then it came out and although my wife is still in the anger stages, I am releived that it is out in the open. I am dealing with it but I now find myself concerned with her. She had been diagnoised by a therapist as having anger issues and was recommended to anger management classes. Her excuse for not going was that it was me causing her anger. But she lashed out at the entire family not just me.
    Anyway, she is still stuck in the past and is unwilling to proceede. I feel that justifies her anger and gives her an opening to let her anger out. I understand her being angry but to keep rehashing issues over 6 years old and how she “knows” that it was the reason my last two marrages didn’t work out (which it wasn’t the reason. One was imaturity the other money) seems to me as just a way to keep throwing gas on the fire.
    I have taken anger management classes and thank God that I did. I do hope she takes these messages into heart. She does not have a podcast capabilities but can you send articles and such through email? Please let me know.

  • Camilla

    March 25, 2009 • 8:14 pm

    I see the importance of forgiving for my own peace and sanity. What I am afraid of is this: Is there a certain level of expressing feelings of anger, hurt, resentment, fear and other negative emotions that needs to be done before choosing to forgive? I know I will forgive my husband regardless of whether or not he chooses full recovery and repentance. I know I have to to be happy whether I stay with him or not. I just don’t feel like I am ready to do it yet. Is there harm or danger in forgiving too soon? I am afraid if I forgive now, before he even realizes the extent of the pain he has caused me, I will never have the opportunity to be understood and heard. I feel like I can never have the close, connected marriage relationship I want to have with out him understanding what he has done to me and being sorry. I know forgiveness shouldn’t be dependent on him being sorry, but if I am going to stay married to him and if I am ever going to be able to trust him again, I need him to understand, and I need to know that he cares. If he doesn’t understand what he has done to me, what does he have stopping him from hurting me again?

    • Natalie

      January 5, 2012 • 11:00 pm

      This is EXACTLY how I feel. I could not agree more. I was looking for spouse addiction support and I’m so glad I clicked on this link. This is EXACTLY how I feel right now. Thanks for sharing. I am in the angry stages for sure right now… :)

  • Janet

    March 26, 2009 • 9:54 am

    I completely understand where you are coming from and I really like your thought “forgiveness is about you for your own peace and sanity.” There is something that I learned a few years ago that really helped me, I don’t know if it will help you, but here it is. I think you can actually do both: forgive him and stand up for yourself to protect you from getting “hurt” again. A friend of mine went on a tour to Israel a while back and he told be that an Old Rabi gave him a new explanation of the scripture “turn the other cheek.” He said that the Hebrew words meant something different than how most of us interpret it. I thought that “turn the other cheek” meant to let them slap you again, just on the other side. But he said that the Hebrew translation of “turn the other cheek” really means to get out of the way. So after they slap you once, you turn your head in another direction to avoid another slap. In other words, protect yourself from getting hurt again. So how what that means to me is when somebody does something to me that is unfair or “unjust” it works best if I let go of my bitter, anger, and frustration — for MY sanity, but then I take measures to protect myself. And protection doesn’t have to include anger. I think that communicating how hurt you are and setting boundaries doesn’t mean your not forgiving him. Like you said, forgiving has more to do with the feelings you have inside. So, in order for your relationship to heal, it might be helpful to forgive him now, and let him know that you will support him in his recovery and as long as he is making improvements and working to improve your relationship than you are good to support him. But if he stops and doesn’t make efforts to improve then you need to protect yourself and either move on or take other action to make you feel safe. But even if you DO end up “moving on” you can still forgive and not feel bitter and angry. Because it just makes you miserable. These are just my feelings. You know what is best for you!!

  • Maria

    July 24, 2009 • 9:09 am

    I am very glad to hear that “turn the other cheek” has a different meaning than what it implied to me. However, the implied phrase has marked my character to believe i have to take abuse.

    Unortunately so much abuse as a child from my mother and consequences of that abuse has me feeling angry at so many people. Desperately i want to rid of myself of that anger but i have an extremely difficult time. Is my personality more damaged then what i imagine it be?

  • "Sarah"

    January 30, 2010 • 7:48 pm

    I am not sure where to start. I am a wife, a Mom (2 kids), and right now I am an invalid. I have been in bed or on crutches for the last 8 months with really no immediate end in sight. And if that weren’t enough…my knight in shinning armor, is really just a retard in tin foil!
    Our marriage from the beginning has been hard and basically void of passion, emotion, and well…I am not one to divorce, to quit…I loved him once, I could forgive and love again…couldn’t I?
    10 years and 2 kids later, he confesses a struggle and addiction to pornography. I choose him. This is who I chose? I can’t do this…it is like I am walking under water, I can not do this.
    For ten years, the distance between us, was my fault…he let me shoulder it. For 10 years, he emotional and verbally abused and neglected me, and I let him. I took the blame. I took the blame.
    As if my physical struggles weren’t enough…he chooses to confess this NOW?
    And now he has repented…God has forgiven him. And I cant.
    He really has changed, I see it in most everything he does, he is a better Dad. He works harder, he is more invested in our family, he laughs a bit more, he smiles more, his eyes are even more clear. He walks a bit taller, and…I can’t forgive.
    Sometimes I think that I can. Sometimes, I don’t think about all the women he has “been” with in his mind, about their perfect bodies that do not have stretch marks and 6 long long scars on the hips and abdomen from surgeries trying to make them walk again. He admitted to watching it with the kids in the same room…he swears they never saw. I can’t forget that. How come I don’t deserve happiness? I can’t breath.
    How come he seems happy…how is that fair?

  • Jackie

    February 6, 2010 • 2:11 am

    If you are reading this, it is time. You may think that you have been betrayed – how ironic. I have been dealing with the betrayal for years, silently and painfully. It has almost killed me. Day after day the pain of the reality that our marriage is gone or whether it even existed to begin with has swept over me like a dark storm that never passes.

    At some point the denial, the anger and the tolerance come to an end. At some point, the struggle between head and heart comes to an end and the two meet, intuition and instinct become one. This is that point.

    Our union, to me was sacred. You were mine and I was yours. What we had together was ours. We no longer have that special time which belonged only to us. Our hideaway had been cheapened by giving it to many others; thrown away as though it had little or no value to you. There is now nothing left that is ours, as a married couple. We are just two people living together, sharing physical space.

    Our marriage has been defiled. It is broken. It has been slowly corroded away by your secret. How can we have any intimacy when you feast on other women, day after day? That is just a small part of it. I will never be able to articulate truly the way that I feel, how I have felt. Aside for the obvious, feeling unvalued, unloved, unattractive and down-right inadequate, I have felt enormous loneliness – throughout our marriage. Lonely because you have an addiction. The intimacy was lost a long time ago. How can anyone be intimate with someone who takes that intimacy away and shares it with inanimate objects? Trying to engage with you, trying to get input, trying to share your heart is like hitting a wall every time. I cringe at the thought of your touch, knowing that it is not me that you see. It is just as though you have had countless affairs.

    To you, this may not seem like sufficient to end a marriage to me it is. This and the fact that you have exposed the most precious thing in my life, is. One day, I came downstairs to find our two-year old sitting on your lap in front of your computer pointing at the screen saying, “boob”. On another occasion I walked in on you pulling up your pants in the lounge, while she was in your care. I do not know what events preceded what I witnessed, I don’t want to know either. But I do know that whatever it was you were doing, was unforgivable to be doing it in front of our child. While these two events may not singularly the turning point, her constant involvement in your “habit” is detrimental to her healthy development. I know that every moment that you have been without me, at home, is spent fueling your addiction, regardless of whether she is with you or not. I cannot leave her alone with you. Regardless of other past behaviours, like not changing her nappy and letting her stick coins in her mouth, (perhaps because you were too preoccupied with this very reason) this is the most dangerous. Children are impressionable. At this age, Allerga’s brain is a little sponge soaking up images and experiences. My instinct is to protect her. I would be a bad mother if I stayed and turned a blind eye to the damage that is already underway. I will heal and I will find myself again. I pray that our little girl will not be left with the images etched into her neurological pathways.

    I did love you, but I don’t think that I ever really knew the man that I married. There is not enough love to work through this, it has been exhausted. I’m not sure at what point I started not liking you, but I know that it was over a period of time – long enough to be numbed and long enough to eventually look at you and feel nothing. I’m leaving before I start hating you.

    This is the end.

    Trying to discuss this with you will just be another one of those “hitting a wall” moments and I do not want you to try and convince me that you will change, you have already done that too many times. This time there will be no opportunity to try and convince me to stay. It will just prolong the pain and slow my own healing process.

    I am truly sorry. I hope that you will find your way as I have mine.

  • Tricia

    February 9, 2010 • 2:41 pm

    Its about trust. You have lost not only your faith and trust in him, but in yourself. You are a beautiful woman, he didn’t marry you for your body, he married you because he saw something within you that connected with himself and he loves you. He loves you enough to confess his addiction, he loves you enough to get the help he needed. Perhaps you should go through the program yourself, because your self esteem is shot. That is why you are not happy. You see yourself as a scarred unattractive woman and that is not how your husband sees you, otherwise he would have left you along time ago. Wake up each morning and look into a mirror and tell yourself that you are beautiful. Perhaps go to counseling to work on your selfesteem. If you love him, you will do it. If you don’t love him, then at least be honest with him and yourself. I beleive in you. I have faith in you and your husband and your marriage. You can make it work if…..you want it to.

  • Johnathan

    February 9, 2010 • 8:35 pm

    I have a porn addiction and i feel disgusted to say that i also have a beautiful family a fiance and a 2 yr old boy…she has left me before for this very reason and now she caught me again and we were doin so good lookin at rings, makin plans, a new bigger home, another child possibly, and i screwed it all up i know that i need to stop i want to stop i just want my family back. But i dont how she will ever be able to forgive me i have never seen her this hurt i dont know what to do to show her i am getting help im talkin to people but how do i show her that she can trust me again…

  • Tricia

    February 12, 2010 • 11:49 am

    First you show her what you wrote. Tell her exactly how you feel. Let her read some of the material that you’ve been given. She should be going through alot of this program with you. Forgiveness comes with time, by showing her everday how much she means to you, by letting her see that you are human with feelings and emotions. I am involved with someone with a porn addiction and masturbation addiction, his first marriage failed due to his addiction. When he told me about his addiction, I didn’t know much about it. I knew that I couldn’t stand pornography, but I cared about him. And when he broke into a business to use their computer to watch porn, I knew that something had to be done. I found Candeo on the internet and I am glad I did. Now with Candeo’s help I can be there for him, help him with the tools he’ll be given and be there if ever falls off the wagon again. My laptop is passcoded for his protection, with his suggestion, so that he cannot use it without me being there. I love him enough to go through the program with him, so that we can have a future together. Talk to your wife, really talk to her, cry if you feel the need to, let her see that you are repentant, that you feel.

  • Bella

    February 20, 2010 • 12:12 pm

    I wish my husband would feel this way. Our sex was good, but never great. Something was missing and I didn’t know what it was. We have been together three years, married for 7 months. He was always distanced and there were times I thought he was cheating on me, cause sex was not often and sometimes it was like he wasn’t even there when we have sex. A year and a half ago, we had a very bad sex life, there were weeks and weeks without sex. I’m 28 and attractive, couldn’t imagine how he didn’t want to have sex with me. I woke up one night at 2am, I found him in the living room watching porn and masturbating. After telling me he didn’t feel like having sex at 12am?!?!?. I was hurt. I knew he used to masturbate before I just didn’t know he was still doing it when he “lost his sex drive” for a few months. He had just moved in together then.
    The past year has been a nightmare, him calling me crazy for thinking that porn and masturbation are wrong, days that he promised not to do it again, lies when I found porn on the comp, more name calling, more lies…
    One month ago he told me he hadn’t masturbated in over a month. I told him I was proud of him. Two days after that I found all these pictures at internet temporary files. He had watched porn again at lunch when came to feed our dog. Some of the pictures were of girls around 7 years old. He said they were spam and never saw at those pics and videos had told me before that he likes young girls, or like they call it ” barely legal porn”.But he said they were all over 18.But 7????
    Why should I believe that after all those promises and lies????? Should I believe that???Those pics were the nastier things I have seen in my life. I don’t know. I’m torn.

  • Celeste

    September 20, 2010 • 10:23 pm

    I am so in touch with theses emotions. My boyfriend of a year and a half resorted to violence when confronted with the accusation that he watches porn behind my back. He told me that he does nothing wrong in the relationship and that I am the one to blame for our problems due to my attitude towards him which is the result of my knowledge of his porn addiction.
    He told me that until I had proof then I needed to knock it off and be normal. Today I felt empowered because I had all the proof I needed on his computer. With all of his attempts to erase it, back up files, etc. he was busted and I would have given just about anything to have a picture of his face today. I took the wind right out of his sails.
    I didn’t know how he was going to react but I’m not outraged anymore, I feel empowered. I don’t know what will happen from here. Right now I’m enjoying the moment watching him scratch his head.
    If you are going through the emotional torment I was and the verbal and physical abuse due to his shame it’s time to take matters in your own hands and let them know exactly where they stand and that it’s their turn to take accountability instead of lecturing you on what you should be doing to better the relationship.
    I doubt he’ll ever get help but I feel like I was able to break a cycle today and feel free to move on with my life.

  • peaches

    September 30, 2011 • 5:23 pm

    My husband and I have always been great friends. My husband never had a great sex drive but there was enough loving cuddles and closeness that only twice every three weeks could be survived. Unfortunatly we had to go through IVF to have our first child and that put a lot of pressure on our sex life. Eventually we had a daughter and I worked and succeeded in getting our sex life back. However when I fell pregnant with our second child sex stopped (NOTE: this is the point where he started his internet porn addiction) and we never had sex again until our second was 13 months old and I fell pregnant immediately with twins. I wanted sex during that time but felt unwanted and undesired and didn’t push for it. I didn’t have the self esteem to push for sex. It happened infrequently and during sex I could see his brain switching off and he would lose his erection and I would comfort him. The loving was lost when we had sex, no caressing or tenderness. The touching and caressing stopped in everyday life, we never cuddled anymore. When the twins were 2 and a half I had to get away and my husband insisted on coming with me. We had lots of sex in a hotel for two nights, it was carnal and needed but not loving. Anyway when we got back I said why don’t we had a sex night once a week where we could have sex or just cuddle so long as it gave us intimate time. This worked for a few weeks but he soon lost interest and I could no longer push for it. Since then I have always initiated sex and usually when I can no longer stand to not have sex any longer. There wasn’t any intimacy between us although we were really good friends and could make each other laugh. He is a good friend, fantastic dad and good provider. However as soon as the kids were in bed he would always be working on the computer, he wouldn’t make the effort to go out with friends. He would tuck me into bed and ‘work’ on the computer until the early hours. He was always tired and lacked an interest in life as he felt he did enough. Over this time I have fallen out of love with him. I have great affection for him as a friend but no longer loved and desired to have sex with him. I gave up on us and stopped initiating sex, stopped asking him to do DIY and house maintenance because I wanted the initiative to come from him for once. I am a really capable person and have a bright happy nature, although no one knew I was really sad inside and so lonely at home. I just coped and put up with it because I couldn’t understand why when I had such a great friend, dad and provider I was so unhappy. I talked about our sex problems and sent him to the doctors to try on work on his erection problems ect – never once realising that he had a porn addiction (and I thought he had no sex drive) and that lost of penile function is a consquence of porn addiction (it was nothing to do with me being unattractive). Seven months ago I met someone who thought I was fantastic and desired me and I him. I met him three times, had the best loving, intimate sex. I fell in love but I came clean and told my husband. He was devastated and we started marriage councelling. The other man lived a very long way away and was also married. Although it was hard for both of us we knew we had to end it and eventually did. During the councelling my husbands addiction came to light. Everything has now fallen in to place and I can understand – though forgive – thats a tough one. He also has to forgive me. We have worked very hard, we have four kids to consider. He now understands what life was like for me, he knows I would never of been a cheat if he had loved me, he knows and understands what the consquences of a porn addiction are and the impact it has had on our marriage. He lives at his parents now but is around a lot with the kids, we still have family days out ect. He is having councelling for intimacy problems. He has loads more energy because he goes to bed earlier and much more interest in life – he has got himself new friends and a social life and together we have got on with lots of the DIY that has been left over the years. Also what kind of man is my husband going to be? I thought he had no sex drive but he does, it just wasn’t focused on us. How much more confident around me is he going to be now he is addressing his intimacy issues? I can see the changes in him and think that all we have on our side is time. However, I am no longer in love with him. I don’t want him to touch me and cannot stand the though of being sexual with him. My affair was the catalyst I needed to make me realise how unhappy I was and what I was missing in my life. I know I will not live without desire or being desired. I want a normal, loving, sexual relationship. I have not gone through all this to compromise and accept – I would fear that i would end up cheating again and I never want to do that. Maybe whatever changes he makes it could be too late for us. I didn’t discover about his habit while I was still in love with him, I had already began to move on. I coped with it for too long (my second child is now 8 and half) and there maybe too much water under the bridge to go back. The problem was between my husband and I, not the family but the punishment if I leave him is not just between us, it is the kids, the home, the finances, his pension – can I be so hard nosed? If it was another addiction could I find forgiveness easier? All those wasted years!!! All we have is time.

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